Soundtrack to a Twenty20: Every song played at a county cricket match

I spent a drizzly evening on Shazam so you don’t have to

Thursday’s report from the Telegraph on the topic of a city-based Twenty20 league coming as soon as 2018 confirmed the inevitable: a tournament to ape the flashy leagues of almost every other test-playing nation, particularly India and Australia, is incoming whether the existing county community likes it or not. How such a tournament would magically revive the fortunes of the domestic game remains to be seen, but its impending arrival is sure to fuel the growth of ‘cricketainment,’ that ugliest of portmanteaus.

For stubborn purists, there’s a fair bit of a professional Twenty20 experience to despise, yet perhaps the most consistently irritating, regardless of location, is the soundtrack. On any given evening, county grounds are filled with a jumbled mix of records picked, presumably by an ECB-guided hand, to inject energy into crowds, celebrate rare moments of cricketing magic like boundaries being hit and overs ending, and usually just annoy people who’ve actually turned out to watch some cricket.

To illustrate the absurdity of the situation, I travelled to the 1st Central County Ground in Hove last night to see Sussex host Glamorgan in the final NatWest T20 Blast game of the season. Though the match, which was meant to begin at 6:30, ended up overrun by rain, the four hours of music that accompanied it may have been the most frustrating element of it all. Continue reading “Soundtrack to a Twenty20: Every song played at a county cricket match”

Katy B – Honey review

An evident passion project that chuckles sultrily at the mould of a pop songstress’ third album, Honey’s variety and underground spirit gets lost in its own intentions as Katy B embraces, and is embraced by, the ideas that brought her to this point.

This review originally published in for The Edge

When Geeneus, the founder of Rinse FM, wanted to celebrate the graduation of his station from a pirate aerial protruding from his flat window to an actual Ofcom licensee around the turn of the decade, he looked to Katy B to voice a production showreel of their underground producer and MC cohort. Instead, he handled the bulk of the production and picked up a scatter of writing credits on On A Mission and Little Red, records which bore the inflexions of their rave scene amidst angsty pop.

Those successes – Little Red topped the album chart in 2014 and 7 singles have struck the UK top 20 – have attracted a higher profile of guest for Honey, a subsequently supercharged incarnation of that original concept, and it is only Geeneus who can manage to squeeze in a second production nod courtesy of a bit of outro work. Each track is marketed as Katy B x [INSERT PRODUCER] with the exception of a new, Tinie Tempah-less rendition of KDA’s bubbly chart-topper ‘Turn The Music Louder (Rumble)’ upon which Katy featured last autumn, and over 20 collaborators are credited over its 53 minute runtime, including a scatter of UK rappers, Rinse-affiliated producers, and enough genre-hopping to exhaust the hive.

Frontloading the album are its two biggest international coups, including a sultry title track from Canadian phenom Kaytranada at the outset. “Something ‘bout your vibe/I know I can trust you now,” Katy’s first syrupy drool over the former’s sultry title track, is a hopeful opening, but little else arises beyond its first 10 seconds as any charisma slowly falls away. Directly afterwards, lead single ‘Who Am I’ underwhelms the most. With Diplo’s dancehall bonanza Major Lazer – you know, the ones behind the most streamed track of all time in ‘Lean On’ with DJ Snake and MØ – and suave comeback maestro Craig David sharing the billing, expecting something even vaguely interesting is fair. Instead, with nary a sign of Jillionaire, Walshy Fire, or even Diplo’s own sense of creativity, it wobbles nervously. Its opening line, “I’ve got this pain and I don’t know what to do it,” is perhaps as much about the jingling lethargy of the instrumental as her lovestruck duet with David, who is as smooth as ever even without energy in support.

Fortunately, smaller names do pick up the mantle and the apparent ethos of the project more readily later on. Chris Lorenzo, a converted ghost-producer specialising in a bassy house sound, and a former client in Hannah Wants bear highlights with ‘I Wanna Be’ and ‘Dreamers’ respectively, which offer Katy similarly minimal platforms to have vocals in focus before kicking in at appropriate moments. Early teaser ‘Calm Down,’ co-produced by Four Tet and Floating Points, takes a moment to settle through close string parts and peculiar elastic production into a refreshing standout, and Geeneus’ own pair of acknowledgements come on tracks that are at times eye-rollingly introspective yet pleasantly reminiscent of Skrillex’s mellower output.

In its diplomatic attempts to incorporate the entire gamut of London’s dance sounds, some moments do get almost hilariously grime-laden. ‘Lose Your Head,’ produced by ‘German Whip’ crew The HeavyTrackerz and opening with their whispered tag at the start, is an swampish venture through too much sambuca and On A Mission-era references with D Double E and J Hus each using their 30 second slots to act self-parodically. Novelist’s turn on ‘Honey (Outro)’ is mercifully far more ethereal and earnest (“If I can give something back to the world/I hope that I make it proud”) and sometime Disclosure and Snakehips collaborator Sasha Keable – aside from David, the only featured singer on the record – gives Jd.reid production ‘Chase Me’ a wonderful soulful slant that complements Katy’s tender R&B approach delightfully.

Given Katy’s career trajectory thus far, the very existence of Honey is a tad bizarre. Although it was tracks with Benga and the Magnetic Man dubstep supergroup right at the apex of that particular south London movement that brought us to the party, her Ms. Dynamite-fuelled pivot into more carefree pop took the momentum into something commercially viable. Five years on at Honey’s announcement, Katy spoke of her desire to have more club-oriented tracks for her shows in such venues, and when those two worlds aren’t garishly mixed – looking at you, ‘Dark Delirium’ – this record can indeed be rather sweet. Given her talents, it’s sure to make far more sense in that context, even if only because on stage she can utilise her strengths without a bevy of eager producers hijacking their four minutes of limelight.

In the summertime

TL;DR: Cricket. Cricket cricket cricket.

A couple of years ago, some part of me decided that, as going to cricket and writing words about things were two of my most favourite things to do, combining them somehow would make the various trips more rewarding and make me not feel quite so procrastinatory when increasing how much I do both. Thus, Stumpline was born and, to date, three match reports were scribbled. Somehow I ended up at the premiere of Death of a Gentleman chatting about it with the editor of Wisden, the world’s foremost sporting literary compendium. Fun was had by all. Unless, for some reason, you actually wanted to read things.

This year, it’s all going to be a bit trickier. No longer do I qualify for Sussex CCC’s excellent Junior Sharkz membership, and I spend more than half my time in Southampton as it is. I won’t be, as pictured above, gallivanting around majestically, occupying a scorebox for the school 1st XI to distract myself from impending doom exams. Nevertheless, county memberships are sorted and a train fare fund is slowly being accumulated to make this season hopefully somehow more crickety than the last. A day of indoor liveblogging for the Wessex Scene kicked me off a couple of weeks back, and now there’s no time to turn around.

Back in January, I set myself a target of writing something, no matter how hollow or hasty, about music on Perpetual Playlist and, nearly three entire months into the endeavour, things are still going steadily and the introduction of a strict writing routine has (largely) been enjoyable. Therefore, it’s time to take this to the deckchairs.

This summer, I’ll post something on Stumpline at least once per day I spend physically watching cricket. Some days, that’ll mean a conventional match report; others, a tenuously-linked garble on how the only thing English domestic cricket is missing is the hypnotic gangliness of Michael Rippon. Like with the music stuff, scheduling it to post the next morning at 10am is likely going to be the most convenient way of giving it enough time to be written, regardless of other things I may/should be getting distracted by, but it will certainly be a tad more flexible this time around. To get all the delicious posts spammed in your general direction, follow me or the blog on Twitter.

***

The pre-season at Hove kicks off tomorrow morning, as does one of those storms so supposedly intense it deserves a name. What an enthralling start it shall be.

Super Bowl 50 half-time show review

Coldplay form an all-star cast of Bruno Mars and Beyoncé for a fitting tribute to our zeitgeist and the circus of handegg encapsulating it for the fiftieth time.

The fiftieth Super Bowl, a mildly-farcical advertising hoarding won by an ageing out-of-place Budweiser-swilling sexual harasser who happens to be one of the finest quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League, fell subject to its traditional half-time excursion into the world of popular music on Sunday night in not-San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium. Contrary to the most earnest efforts and headline billing of British quartet Coldplay, the show – or, at least, cultural perception of it – was seized by a duelling Beyoncé and Bruno Mars before an estimated live television audience of, according to an industry insider, “one absolute fuckload.”

Chris Martin and his bandmates took to a temporary stage on the churned field much like any other stadium show they’d put on, surrounded by screaming fans and Pepsi logos atop a chromatic stage shaped like the centrepiece of the cover of recent record A Head Full of Dreams and travelling around it with an assured blend of timidness and arrogance. Martin began by repeating the opening lines of ‘Yellow’ to soundtrack the flooding of the field with peripheral extras, before launching into the more fitting tones of ‘Viva La Vida’ and ‘A Sky Full of Stars.’ Regardless of the context or inevitable financial incentive, to see people – Martin included – rhythmically bouncing to Coldplay as if they were in a Las Vegas superclub with Calvin Harris on deck feels somewhat incongruous yet, as Martin loosened up by removing his patchwork jacket and relieving his knees from their unique gravitational exertions, the frantic medley of the band’s more joyous pop material soon settled into a chromatic groove aided by the card panels distributed throughout the venue.

To hastily distract us from the flamboyance of the Mylo Xyloto era, despite the anthemic hooks displayed with butterfly-laden ‘Paradise,’ DJ and producer Mark Ronson was wheeled out as the first of the prominent special guests. Behind a set of turntables in what looked like a cumbersome cuboid of some functionality, he scratched merrily as an initially-jazzier rendition of his hit song ‘Uptown Funk’ was performed by a leather-clad Bruno Mars. Whether it was genuinely poorly lip-synced or merely another quirk of the television coverage transferred across the Atlantic may remain an eternal point of no consequence, and it was soon forgotten as soon as a percussive roar emerged near the endzone.

Really only Beyoncé inhabits the zeitgeist sufficiently to release a track out of nowhere and, without even an album (yet) to promote, announce a world tour and perform it on such a grand platform within the same weekend. ‘Formation,’ backed by a meticulous equilateral triangle of dancers, was of course performed flawlessly without any apparent need for staging, though the song itself is still yet to settle and feels, at this stage to these ears, mildly discordant and a rough extension of the hip-hop sound she has been prioritising since the birth of the Sasha Fierce persona. Regardless, it kept the energetic notion in action ahead of her strut to join the rest on centre stage.

Neither of the two main features in this spectacle are strangers to such an arena, having each anchored their own half-time extravaganzas earlier in the last five years, but the combination of three such varied musical phenomena as they began to collude for further snippets of ‘Uptown Funk’ and Coldplay records began to bewilder. A moment of tension that looked poised to erupt into a dance-off or, better still, a rap battle was extinguished by the melancholy of ‘Fix You,’ prefaced by ‘Clocks,’ as the display hit its obligatory emotional montage segment.

Recalling half-time shows of Super Bowls past, highlighting the ilk of the Springsteens and Perrys and fully-clothed Jacksons, was hardly a surprise given the commemoratory nature of this year’s Big Game™. However, doing so in such a mournful way, with Martin crooning spoilers from the choruses of Bono and Prince over that same tearjerking melody, seemed an attempt at fabricating the most tedious televisual music obituary since the remnants of One Direction performed ‘History’ on last year’s The X Factor. This one, of course, has zero chance of permanence barring some immense Will Smith-induced assassination of the league’s public and corporate perception.

Martin, Mars, and Beyoncé strolled backwards and forwards as the stage flooded for the grand finale, closer ‘Up&Up’ from A Head Full of Dreams, and a message encouraging us to “believe in love” emerged in the backdrop. Martin, flanked by more fashionable celebrities to either side, became subject of mockeries that ignored Coldplay’s vast success and painted them as the awkward kid in the corner that nobody really wanted to turn up to the party. Their segments, however, largely provided a consistency and spark to the performance that the guests and flashbacks did not entirely reinforce. Consequently come next year, memories will be thin and, by the time we reach Super Bowl 💯, it may be lucky to figure in even the most expansive holographic hallucinations. Yet, as we retreat to discard American football from our consciences until our next excuse to congregate and demolish delicious heart conditions, our memories of this interlude are sufficiently fulfilling to cherish.

Resolutions: An update

At the start of last year, I promised some kind of effort to post things on this blog daily, whether they be links to articles I’d written elsewhere, podcasts or YouTube videos, or perhaps even just an exceptionally good embedded tweet. Alas, nothing quite panned out as I’d hoped, though Election Day’s combination of dodgy sample ballot papers and photography fulfilled the year’s quota of the latter.

Most of the few articles that did find their way here were originally penned for The Broadie, the Christ’s Hospital student newspaper that I had the pleasure of compiling for 18 months until I departed the school in June. As I mentioned on Facebook when my final issue eventually saw the light of day, the freedom afforded to me to write pretty much whatever and whenever for an audience that, by and large, enjoyed the product was tremendous and I miss it dearly. Even the 5am typographical crises.

Elsewhere, efforts continued with sporadic (and dare I say enjoyable) results. The Digixav Podcast did indeed return, with Henry and I finding that the best way to commit to recording was to be in different countries rather than being in the same room. The most recent episode, ‘Searching For Pie‘, will, I hope, be the first of many episodes that are at least marginally bearable courtesy of a modicum of editing now that I know how to properly trim things in Audacity. The wonderful Euro Tech Talk folks have also welcomed me on not one but two of their episodes, and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting more involved with the whole tech scene once again as the year goes on.

This website, I assure you, will get some love through 2016 and beyond. For the last year or so, xvh.me has been pointing here to the bog-standard WordPress domain, but I’ve finally worked out how to adjust DNS settings and play with subdomains sufficiently for this to be blog.xvh.me from here on out. There’s also similarly fancy URL trickery (it’s still magic to me) for finding me on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn and SoundCloud and Snapchat and About.me and, inevitably soon, 🍑. Let’s be friends/followers/square/professionally networked/heard/a major 🔑/autobiographical/fruity together.

As we’re firmly into the swing of 2016 and I’m putting the first set of university exams, on which I may have written a date 7 months old, behind me, hopefully some kind of lovely productive cycle that sees me churn out delightful essays with a semblance of regularity will commence. More plausibly will be with increasing my attempts at journalism with DigixavThe EdgeWessex Scene, the half-dozen WordPress blogs I’ve set up and neglected without yet generating enough courage to delete, and anybody else who’d be willing to let me loose with a keyboard and hit publish. If you fit that bracket, get in touch!

One thing I am getting reasonably excited about is my latest WordPress venture and future media empire Perpetual Playlist. The premise is simple: each day at 10am for the foreseeable future – I’ve already paid for three years of the domain so I’m wasting money if I don’t at least try – I’ll post a song that’s great alongside a little bit about why and add it to a glorious playlist (on Spotify). Mostly it’ll be new music, but there will be the occasional burst of nostalgia, filler, or just relevant-to-the-day stuff. 25 days in it’s not yet collapsed, so I’ll probably start plugging that on the socials, as the kids may say, more frequently.

And, if we’re talking music, a mention has to go to Surge Radio. The opportunity to lock myself in a dimly-lit room and listen to music whilst talking to people other than myself was not one I’d expected or explored before arriving in Southampton, yet the first series of XVH Soundsystem didn’t appear to be a disaster once I’d remembered to turn up the microphones. As of next week I’ll probably be broadcasting at a different time (else juggling lectures and broadcasting simultaneously across campus) with some pretty exciting things with awesome people in the works, so tune in on the website or through the catchup service offered on Mixcloud.

See you in 2017 for another round of excuses and reviews of failed pledges!

♥️

Steve Jobs review

Screenwriting liberty puts the Apple talisman’s biopic firmly in the land of the Newton

To describe me as a moviegoer would be more than a tad disingenuous. Finding the time to sit down and properly immerse myself in a film, let alone take a trip to a cinema to spend my life savings on a box of popcorn that I’ll regret within minutes, is difficult.

Nevertheless, I do tend to enjoy adaptations of books that document the lives of the modern world’s more perplexing figures. Two that come to mind are The Social Network, the Oscar-winning dramatisation of the origins of Facebook that helped us to realise that Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Cera were not actually the same person, and Moneyball, the Oscar-nominated translation of advanced baseball statistics and a hairy Brad Pitt to a mainstream audience.

The common link of these movies? Acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. His latest twirl of the pen, Steve Jobs, is about to hit UK screens, however those looking for another film of that ilk may be sorely disappointed. Directed by Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs claims to be based upon Walter Isaacson’s 2011 authorised biography of the late Apple co-founder, though is not afraid to abandon all pretence of historical accuracy bar the presentation itself.

Cinematically, Steve Jobs is perhaps the most intriguing film since Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar-winner Birdman. Set almost solely on location in three auditoriums, it is fitting that the movie has a trio of theatrical acts, each taking place in the immediate lead-up to product launches (Macintosh in 1984, NeXT Computer in 1988, iMac in 1998). Of course, by Sorkin’s own admission, it’s incredibly unlikely that Jobs would have had aggressive and fast-paced conversations with the same core of acquaintances at any, let alone all, of the three events, but this narrowed focus does help to entice an audience to persist through its prolonged 122 minute runtime. Unfortunately, it is where Sorkin and co. play recklessly with the facts that you would expect a film titled Steve Jobs to present that the movie begins to unravel.

Our three segments portray individual key concepts: Jobs The Heartless Bastard, Jobs The Manipulative Genius, and Jobs The Sentimental Hollywood Movie Character (not technical terms, I assure you). Each is extrapolated over the 40 minutes immediately prior to Jobs taking the stage. The first centralises around Jobs’ relationship with Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) and his daughter (much to his initial chagrin) Lisa, whilst the second expands into his business endeavours and that little stumble of being fired by Apple’s board. The final part, an elongated spectacle of sentimentality, grates tremendously, culminating in Jobs chasing his finally-a-daughter onto a roof to tell her he’s going to make the iPod and solve all their problems. Or something. Interest was waning by this point.

Our Jobs is Michael Fassbender, who plays his part exceptionally. It’s quite simple to forget how little he looks like his real-life equivalent as he oscillates between nit-picking details and heartless dismissal of his own children with chilling ease, and he does settle physically into the role as time passes. Early on, despite the movie and the character doing everything possible to encourage hatred for the man, Fassbender somehow creates slivers of empathy for the audience to grasp on to. If nothing else gains recognition come award season, his performance is highly commendable.

Other performances, however, drag the movie slowly beneath the surface. Seth Rogen, portraying a bumbling caricature of Steve Wozniak, takes to serious acting like a MacBook to water. His confrontation with Jobs, which is one of oh so many, introduces the audience to the concept of Xerox PARC and Jobs’ own ‘lack’ of contributions to the actual creation of the devices.

Various characters – such as Jobs’ right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), father figure and sometime Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), and benevolent object of berating Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) – pop up throughout, regardless of their actual employment status at the times depicted, and take their turns to sound off at Jobs in a formulaic manner. Particularly in the final segment, all the movie is missing is a physical queue outside Jobs’ dressing room with a deli counter ticketing system.

To appreciate Steve Jobs is to appreciate Steve Jobs, not Steve Jobs. This is a decent movie loosely based on a set of real people, blatantly masquerading as a biopic for a mainstream audience that may not know better. Ignore the name, for this is not a biopic of one of the foremost figures in consumer technology. Walt Mossberg, who knew Jobs and interviewed him on numerous occasions, compared Steve Jobs to Citizen Kane, in which Orson Welles took liberties with the truth and repackaged it under a different banner to bring it to the world.

Fast-talking, confrontational, and frantic. Perhaps an accurate tricolon for the Silicon Valley of today, though not the formula for what is in essence a serious mockumentary to fulfil its lofty expectations. A fascinating work of fiction it may be, but Steve Jobs is not the Steve Jobs movie we’ve been waiting for.

★★★

Steve Jobs opens in UK cinemas tomorrow (November 13th)

This review was originally published on Digixav

Words on words

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed the complete lack of action on this blog – and many of the others that WordPress has allowed me to setup without properly thinking through what I was doing – over the past few years. I’d like to pretend there are good reasons for this, such as a trip to the Moon or top-secret internship in the Alphabet labs under the exclusive supervision of Kanye West, but that would be rather exceptionally disingenuous. This is, however, quite an interesting time and the end of said silence.

The realisation that school is now a thing of the past only hit me in earnest yesterday. Education, however, is not. Later this month, I’ll be starting a BSc in Web Science at the University of Southampton. This means that not only will I be studying a fascinating array (if you’ll pardon the pun) of topics from microeconomics to programming to demographics, but I’ll also be living in a city (or, in fact, a well-populated place) for the first time since reaching an age at which I was aware of my surroundings. Apparently I’m an adult, and it’s all rather exciting.

So, most importantly, what does this all mean for the blogs? This one, which should soon have a rather snappier domain assigned properly to its pages, will become rather useful in this transitional process and beyond. It would be lovely and, I suspect, helpful to discuss life and the universe and everything around these parts, so prepare for that. Digging through archives at The Broadie before I left made me realise how little of that stuff ever made it onto the web, so I’ll be plastering those gems (and shoddy attempts at cricket-based humour and Miley Cyrus jokes) here over the next few weeks for posterity.

Elsewhere, my plan is certainly to keep writing things of multitudinous ilks and to see where that takes things. That will almost certainly involve Digixav making a majestic return to your RSS feeds, a continued growth in cricket-related content on Stumpline, smuggling further pseudonymous articles into The Broadie, or more likely some exciting new things that are yet to be born or embraced by my procrastinatory fingers. Watch this space.

And then there’s the podcast. Having actually met a real human being with a podcast in the flesh for the first time a few weeks ago, my interest in the whole thing has been reignited. The Digixav Podcast will return, as Henry and I both need some way of ensuring we talk utter nonsense for hours on end keep track of the goings on in consumer technology and the world in general given the fact that we’ll literally be 400 miles apart. That’ll be happening quite soon, so subscribe on iTunes or Android or some such to make sure you get alerted to the poor microphone technique and Flavor Flav jokes when they ‘drop’. There might even be some non-tech stuff to follow, but we shall see. Or hear.

If you wish to follow me on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn or add me on Facebook or endure photos of cricket grounds on Instagram or slow replies by email, you’ll probably come across whatever words or things I do end up producing. It would be great to hear from you all.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be fun.